LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Revenge. Redemption. Re-oriented toward a strong finish to the regular season. Much was on the line for Kentucky against Tennessee on Tuesday night.
UK coach John Calipari repeatedly appealed to fans and students to support his young squad with full-throated cheering.
Ultimately, it would be up to UK, which claims the dubious distinction of being the least-experienced team in college basketball history, to excite the fans.
However excited during 40 minutes of nip-and-tuck basketball, UK fans left Rupp Arena disappointed. Tennessee outplayed UK in the final minute to win, 61-59.
With Shai Gilgeous-Alexander leading the way with his patented drives to the basket, Kentucky led 58-56 late.
But Gilgeous-Alexander's turnover gave Tennessee a chance. Lamonte Turner's 3-pointer with 25.1 seconds left put the Vols ahead, 59-58.
Gilgeous-Alexander turned it over again on the next possession. This miscue fueled a fast-break dunk by Admiral Schofield that set the final score with 4.1 seconds left.
Tennessee fouled to prevent a 3-point shot. Gilgeous-Alexander, who was everywhere down the stretch, made the first free throw with eight-tenths of a second left. He intentionally missed the second, but Tennessee got the rebound.
Gilgeous-Alexander and Quade Green led UK with 15 points each. Kevin Knox added 10.
Turner led Tennessee with 16 points. Jordan Bowen added 13, Schofield 12 and Grant Williams 10.
Much of the pregame talk centered on the first game. Tennessee won with muscle, which inspired a memorable assessment by Calipari. UK was "manhandled by men," he said.
This time, Kentucky seemed ready to match muscles.
"They're coming in here with an idea that they're going to bash us," Calipari said of the Vols. "And my thing is ... we're going to have to be the aggressor."
The game was less a slugfest than a test of nerve and will.
Kentucky competed, but Gilgeous-Alexander's two turnovers in the final minute proved too much to overcome.
Kentucky fell to 17-7 overall and 6-5 in the Southeastern Conference.
Tennessee, which swept UK for the first time since 1998-99, improved to 18-5 overall and 8-3 in the SEC.
Little in the first half gave UK fans reason to boisterous enthusiasm. The Cats made only three of their first 15 shots, in part because of a failure to establish low-post superiority over the smaller Vols.
But Tennessee also struggled offensively. The Vols made only 10 of 26 shots in the fist half.
Green, who had made only 10 of 37 shots (five of 19 from 3-point range) since returning from a strained back, led Kentucky. His 10 first-half points included a turnaround from the right wing in the final second to bring UK within 27-26 at halftime.
Kentucky's lack of low-post superiority was not for lack of trying. UK went to Nick Richards in the post twice in the first 90 seconds. Later, Jarred Vanderbilt got a chance to post up.
But UK had no points from the paint until Vanderbilt dunked a lob with 5:13 left.
An exceedingly rare sight came about three minutes later. Richards blocked Williams' shot. That ignited a fast break that Green finished with a layup with 2:19 left. That marked UK's first fast-break points since the West Virginia game on Jan. 27.
Cheers filled Rupp Arena as Kentucky matched its six first-half baskets at Missouri on Saturday. Tennessee called timeout.
The Vols had to feel fairly good with a halftime lead despite Williams making only one shot and scoring six points.
Neither team took charge in the first 10 minutes of the second half.
Green's driving layup put UK ahead 37-35 with 14:04 left. That excited the crowd. His free throw gave the Cats a 38-35 lead at the second television timeout of the half. That matched the largest lead either team had held to that point.
With Gilgeous-Alexander showing how many variations a driving layup can have, Kentucky inched ahead. His Euro step put the Cats ahead, 42-39. His underhand flip tied it at 44. His old-school driving dunk tied it at 46.
But Tennessee did not wilt. Williams' two free throws with 4:54 left put the Vols ahead, 50-46. That marked the largest lead yet in a game that made a double-digit cushion unthinkable.
The stage was set for the final dramatics.
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